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"But I Don't Wanna Go Golfing!"

HBO is televising Kevin Costner's movie Tin Cup again. A movie about golf would have been my idea of an insomniac's dream, so to speak. I told a friend who I knew played golf and even watched it on TV that playing golf was one of the biggest wastes of time imaginable, how could anyone actually sit in front of a television for a prolonged period of time and WATCH it? At this time in May of 1996 I was a Senior Buyer for a local Ann Arbor, Michigan manufacturer. Edwards Brothers, Incorporated. The friend was really a vendor with which we had a long established relationship. There was another vendor from Chicago that was coming to town and wanted to invite me out for an afternoon of golf. I tried to get out of this generous offer as politely as I could, but he was insistent. I told him I have never played the game. He didn't care. I could only imagine one thing worse than experienced and talented golfers spending their afternoon in the company of a nervous neophyte who has never actually swung a club before! And that thing was actually being that neophyte! I thought to myself, there's no way I can go out there attempting this kind of sport. Plus I just didn't want to! I tried my best to get out of it, but, not wanting to appear rude, I submitted. I felt like the title of one other of Costner's movies, like I had No Way Out.

So I found myself being dragged, albeit silently, kicking and screaming to this golf outing. The vendor was D&K International, a laminating film and equipment manufacturer, a supplier to the book manufacturing industry, and the one inviting me was is Eric DeBord. He had a younger brother Mike that was Offensive Coordinator for the University of Michigan Wolverines, the Big Ten's premiere football team. This outing would consist of representatives from a couple other local book manufacturers, Ann Arbor being a kind of hub for smaller printer/binders. And the course we'd play was the University of Michigan Golf Course. So there were a few positives to balance the one big obvious negative which was I would actually have to play the game as well as traverse one of the finest courses in the area in the company of a local celebrity. Plus I did get the afternoon away from the office.

One week before the event I drove out to see my dad in South Lyon, Michigan where he and mom live in that blissful state known as retirement. He and I, along with my older brother Jim and his young son Devin, who happened to be in town, visited a local driving range. I needed to at least get the feel of a club swinging in my hands and attempt to impact the ball. I knew I was going to humiliate myself out there and I wanted to minimize the degree to which I was mortified. After a swing or two what I found was that I didn't hit the ball too wretchedly off the tee. Though I didn't really think past that to the concept that most of the hitting is done after the tee shot and shots are frequently attempted in not too short grass, and on sides of hills, and in sand, and in water and beside trees, and in trees etc. etc.. But I surprised myself in that I found the experience on this afternoon enjoyable. Little did I realize what I was in for the next weekend.

The morning of the event arrived. It was such a delightful mid Spring morning, the birds were singing, the air was fresh, the green of vegetation was so lush, the grass still covered with the morning's dew; it seemed a perfect day to be off work. But then I remembered I still have to golf! The group of about eight or ten divided into foursomes. And I get selected to play with, guess whom? Not the sales Manager of the company, not the salesman who called on us and whom I knew best out of all the people there. No, I get to play with Eric, the company's executive officer, and his brother Mike, of U of M football fame, and my boss, Sandy! Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that my boss also accompanied us on the outing. She was a very good golfer, and indeed all three of them were. Low handicappers, as I recall they were referred. And I had to invite Sandy, who'd never forgive me if I attended this without inviting her. Not a prudent thing to do to your boss. Actually she didn't even want to go, was too busy, even for a golf fanatic like her. But I told her we'd play on the U of M course and without further hesitation she was going.

So here we are out on the first tee of hole number one and who was going to start things off. I felt sure that there'd be a mad rush by the others to the tee box. So who do they select to start things off? Who else. Just what the novice wants, be the first! Actually I think that they secretly were getting ready to have a real good laugh. You know, ridicule the beginner so things only get worse. Well, I teed up the ball and without much hesitation, to get this over as quickly as possible, I swung and what do you know, the ball carried pretty far and not too far out of bounds to the left. It didn't even go over the fence and out into traffic along State Street I was actually congratulated by the group. I'm sure they were just as surprised as I was and that is indeed saying something! We were playing a Scramble, so the best ball that hit was where we all made our second shot and so on until we holed out. It somehow appeared like it really might be quite a fabulous day to be outside and away from work.

The day turned out to be a blast. My ball was even used a few times (the "best ball" concept) and at times I hit better that some of the others. Rarely, very rarely. Maybe once. But it was truly an eye opener. And the day passed in fine style. It was my first understanding of the frequently employed adage, that a bad day of golf is still better than a good day at work. And now I felt that I could really get to enjoy this game. Dad had an extra set of clubs that he let me use, and he and I spent six or eight Saturday mornings during the summer of 1996 out on some of the more inferior but less expensive local golf courses. After the hot part of the summer passed and close to the end of the season, I decided I needed to get a set of my own clubs. So I acquired a cheap beginners set. It will be many years before I get proficient enough to notice that any particular ball or a good set of clubs will have any impact on my performance what so ever.

The next year I decided that I would join the Edwards Brothers Golf League. They would play 22 Tuesdays afternoons in a row, and I would actually get out of work at around 3 o'clock instead of the usual 5 o'clock. Not a bad deal! There occurred times that I derived great satisfaction in playing. Sometimes I would make a nice 20 foot put, or I'd par a hole (only the par 3's, of course), or I would strike a nice drive far and straight from the tee. And many times I got intimately acquainted with something Mark Twain is reported to have said about golf, that it's a good walk spoiled. Sometimes it gets very discouraging, finding that I can't seem to get below 60 for 9 holes. After my first year on the golf league I was averaging 63 for 9 holes. But for the 58 times a shot is imperfectly made, there are those few shots that would really pump me up and keep me coming back. If I don't get all wrapped up in wondering when I'll be able to turn pro, I expect I'll continue playing for quite a while.

Melissa had given me a gift certificate for two lessons with the U of M Golf Pro for my birthday in 1997. I was able to take advantage and even found some small improvement. I'd also golf some Saturday mornings with Dad, and on occasion I would enjoy a neighborhood par 3 course just a few blocks away from my house. In point of f act it was the few times dad and I went out that were most enjoyable. In his mid 70s dad was still in great health and spry enough to walk 9 or 18 holes. It wouldn't last for too long as by 1998 he really didn't feel that we'd be playing much. And what happened is that I would move 950 miles away and we would not play golf together again. At least to this day anyway. But those were very special times that just the two of us shared with the great outdoors and a fun game.

I know it takes an intense amount of practice to become good at this thing. I'll never have that kind of time to put into it until I retire. Hopefully before then I'll break 59. I may pick up a few tips watching the Golf Channel and the televised tour games, and enjoy well made, well written films like Tin Cup, a movie I think even non-golfers would enjoy. And I find myself enjoying watching golf tournaments on TV. Now I can see and appreciate exactly what these amazingly talented men and women, boys and girls are up against trying to hit a tiny white ball hundreds of yards in a determined line over trees and water, in and out of sand traps rolling around contorted rolling greens to drop into a small tin cup. Or is it plastic? Thank you Eric for your invitation to a whole new concept for me.

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